Coastal wetlands are important habitats, but they also provide protection for inland and coastal communities — from lessening the effects of storm surge to filtering pollutants from the water. But coastal wetlands are under increased pressure from sea level rise, invasive species, development, drainage, and pollution. NOAA scientists work to study, conserve, and restore wetlands and the benefits they provide to coastal communities. Natural and nature-based infrastructure projects utilize natural habitats like wetlands to minimize flooding, erosion, and runoff. In addition to protecting communities, these projects provide recreational opportunities and wildlife habitats.
I design and conduct research to understand how coastal wetlands respond and adapt to rising sea levels and other environmental stressors, like storms, droughts, and nutrient pollution. I also work to apply research results to the management and restoration of wetland habitats. Day to day, this involves a combination of fieldwork, laboratory analysis, writing, and general project management.
It’s been a circuitous path. I started out as a marine biology undergraduate then got a master’s degree in ecosystems ecology and a Ph.D. in oceanography. Along the way I’ve studied tropical seagrasses, biogeochemistry of the Arctic Ocean, and bacterial water quality in a major urban watershed. Working with the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science (NCCOS) is a great fit for me because I am able to draw on all of these previous experiences in my daily work.
Occasionally I’ll get a call from a random citizen who has come across my research and has questions about how my results can inform their specific concerns about a shoreline near them. The majority of the work that we do at NCCOS is used to inform management decisions. In other words, we provide the data local governments and coastal managers need to make decisions about where to invest in new projects and which actions will help protect their communities. That in itself is rewarding, but these one-on-one conversations are particularly satisfying because you can really feel the direct link between the research results and real impacts for average people.
Talk to a lot of people who are already working in the field. Try some random positions (volunteering, internships, technical support) to get a feel for what you like best. And be adaptable.